I have neglected this biblical blog for quite some time now. Without the conversation from which I benefited as pastor of a church – that is, without people’s questions, viewpoints, complaints, celebrations, misunderstandings, conflicts, insights, and all else that comprises the conversation within a community of faith – I have lacked the ingredients needed for the chemistry of biblical study and exposition. Neither did I find a catalyst sufficient to trigger a productive reaction. So, even if I could gather ingredients by reading and by engaging with people online, I felt no stimulus to move beyond my personal reflections, my own questions, my quarantined insights. Despite Karl Barth’s famous prescription for those who preach (keep the Bible in one hand, the newspaper in the other), dialogue with paper or computer screen is not enough; I find that I require flesh-and-blood conversation.
The church with which my wife and I now worship is offering a series of Lenten Bible studies the pastor centers around questions Jesus asks in the gospels. He keeps us engaged with questions rather than answers, thereby drawing out various experiences, viewpoints, and further questions from the participants.
A given answer challenges me to agree or disagree. It calls for assent (elaborated or just nodded) or contrary argument. I understand or misunderstand it. I accept, reject, or ignore it. But there it is, the stated answer, the right answer, the true answer. I may scorn it, but the thing remains unchanged. I may like it and even praise it as wisdom, but the thing remains unchanged, and it remains a thing outside me and outside us, the group of living people gathered around it and supposedly focused upon it.
A truly helpful question asks something of me and of us together. A lower-level testing question wants only the correct answer and so tests rather than teaches, and all it tests is memorization. A higher-level testing question calls for exposition of the correct answer and so tests comprehension of the presumed truth that has been memorized. Recall and comprehend the answer. Nothing more. No need to think, just comprehend. It is, indeed, possible to write test questions that go further by requiring thought built upon or even opposed to the answer, but such tests are difficult to evaluate and do not provide the data necessary for the quantitative assessment of what now passes for educational success. Testing that in itself provides a learning experience exceeds the capabilities of trainers and eludes the grasp of managers.
Faith cannot be just recalled and comprehended. Biblical truth is relational, covenantal, always engaging the person and community to which it is addressed in the here and now.
For me, the conversations we have had around those questions Jesus asks of us have catalyzed ongoing thought, and I hope to share some of that thought in upcoming posts on this blog. I cannot recreate the conversations, but I’ll do what I can to trace where probing has led me so far.
The two central questions around which our conversations have revolved are, “Do you see this woman?” and, “Why do you worry about such things?” I don’t know yet in which order I’ll take them up.